Russia and China double down on defying US

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in glasses, meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Tuesday. PHOTO: REUTERS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in glasses, meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Tuesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Summary

Meetings between senior officials from Beijing and Moscow came against a backdrop of a growing tussle for influence in the global south.

Russia and China have pledged to deepen their growing alliance and shared opposition to what they describe as the U.S.’s attempts to dominate the world order, with Moscow again seeking to boost trade with Beijing as it looks for new ways to bypass the Western sanctions imposed for its war on Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Tuesday after the U.S. increased the volume of warnings that China should step back from helping the Russians pursue the war against their smaller neighbor. The meeting, which followed separate talks with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, also came against a backdrop of a growing tussle for influence in the global south between the West on one hand, and China and Russia and their partners on the other.

Lavrov echoed some of the language of the Cold War in his remarks following the discussions, and again criticized what he called the West’s proclivity for falling in behind Washington, and the U.S.’s attempts to get the rest of the world to follow the same line.

“There is no place for dictatorship, hegemony, neocolonial and colonial practices, which are now being applied by the United States and all the rest of the collective West unquestioningly submitting to the will of Washington," Lavrov said.

China has officially maintained a position of neutrality over the Ukraine war, but it has remained an economic lifeline for Russia, deepening trade ties that have helped Russian President Vladimir Putin stabilize his economy despite Western sanctions.

Beijing has also sought to position itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, and dispatched an envoy to Moscow, Kyiv and other capitals. Its proposal last year aimed at ending the conflict was discounted by European officials who saw China as hewing too closely to Russia’s position.

Wang said China “hopes to see a cease-fire and an end to the war as soon as possible," while Lavrov said Moscow was “grateful to our Chinese friends for their objective, balanced position, and for their willingness to play a positive role in the matter of a political and diplomatic settlement."

While the U.S. hasn’t officially accused China of providing lethal aid to Moscow, it has grown increasingly critical of other assistance Beijing has provided that American officials say bolsters Russia’s ability to prosecute its war.

During a call last week, President Biden warned Xi about U.S. concerns that Beijing is supporting Russia’s defense industry.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen repeated those concerns during a visit to China this week, telling officials that Chinese companies that aid in Russia’s military procurement “will face significant consequences."

Beijing has denied selling weapons to Russia and rejected its warnings, and has accused Washington of fanning the war by arming Ukraine.

Lavrov also accused the U.S. of strengthening its alliances in the Asia-Pacific region to target Russia and China.

Biden is hosting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.for a trilateral summit this week that is expected to include talks on countering China’s increasingly aggressive efforts to stake its claims to much of the South China Sea.

The American alliances have “an overt anti-Chinese, anti-Russian orientation," Lavrov said Tuesday. He accused the U.S. of trying to “break the security architecture" that has evolved around the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, a political and economic union of 10 states in Southeast Asia.

Chinese companies have sold microchips, jamming equipment and jet-fighter parts to Russian entities, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Chinese exports of earth moving equipment to Russia have also shot up since the start of the war, which analysts say may be aiding the construction efforts of Russian forces in Ukraine.

Since 2022, the U.S. has imposed trade restrictions on dozens of Hong Kong and Chinese entities for selling equipment to Russia that supports its military.

Trade between Russia and China grew last year by more than 26% to $240 billion.

Energy was a key component of Russian exports, and China—which doesn’t observe the Western price cap—has been a leading buyer. Last month, China received a record volume of Russian crude as Indian purchases fell over concerns about sanctions, shipping-data company Vortexa reported.

Xi and Putin declared a friendship with “no limits" between their two countries in early 2022, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While Beijing has sought at times to play down that declaration, it has never condemned Putin’s war, or even called it a war, instead describing it as the “Ukraine crisis."

The China-Russia relationship is underpinned by close personal ties between Xi and Putin. The two men have met dozens of times over the past decade, and the Chinese leader has called Putin his dear friend. China welcomed Putin for another visit last year, his first major foreign trip after he was accused of war crimes in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that Lavrov’s visit to Beijing could be considered to be preparation for “upcoming contacts at the highest level," between the two nations, but he declined to confirm whether the Kremlin leader was planning another trip to China this year.

Write to Austin Ramzy at austin.ramzy@wsj.com and Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com

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